Sunday, March 01, 2009

Why Is CNN's Coverage Of The Economy So Bad?

Hi all. As promised, here is the guest editorial from my friend Arachnae:

During the runup to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the media was effectively missing in action. Coverage was either bland reporting of what officials said that day, or active cheerleading. Team USA! Remember how much fun the first Gulf War was? Just like a giant video game! And the ratings! … Eventually, as it became clear that the reasons for the invasion were invented out of whole cloth, some members of the media gradually came to realize that they had been turned into tools. Some soul-searching took place – similar, I might add, to the soul-searching that took place after the savings and loan meltdown of the eighties. “How could we not have seen this coming?” “What can we do to make sure we don’t miss stories this big again?”

Now we have the biggest financial meltdown of our lifetimes – how did the media do in seeing this one coming? Don’t make me laugh.

Okay, so at least they recognize the gravity of the situation and are all hands to battlestations, spreading light in these dark times by informing us of the causes, the solutions, you know, the reality of what’s going on?

Alas, most of the media seems to have drawn the lesson from the Bush years that since some elected officials actually lie, that there’s no such thing as discoverable reality and the best they can do is report what all sides are saying and we can ‘judge for ourselves’. This, if you please, is ‘objective journalism’. Context? History? Past performance? What’s that?

Bitter? moi??? I’ll give you bitter. This just goes on and on. How many times does the media have to soul-search its way out of another journalistic debacle before we recognize that there’s something seriously wrong with the system?

CNN, alas, is a prime example of what I’m talking about. They can tell you what is happening and who said what to whom and when, but why? Forget about it. They’ll let YOU be the judge of that. I guess we should count our blessings that they’re not telling us what to think, a la Fox, but they could at least include some objective reality, which, contrary to their apparent position, does exist.

Case in point – Drew Griffin and the god-damned earmarks. (Don’t even get me started on his deceptive coverage during the election on the subject of ACORN.)

Oh, it was cute when it started; way back in the heady days of 2007, when they sicced all the interns on members of congress to get them to fess up to their earmark requests:
We begin with earmarks. This year members of the House and Senate have put in 32,000 requests to spend your money on pet projects. Last year they approved $29 billion in earmarked items for everything from schools and hospitals to ski lifts and bridges to nowhere.

Get this -- they weren't even disclosing who sponsored what until after the fact, after your money was already dished out.

Well, today Illinois Senator Barack Obama became the first presidential candidate to disclose his earmarks, but he's a rarity in Congress and even within his own party which says it stands for transparency and accountability.

CNN's Drew Griffin, tonight, is keeping them honest.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before they came to power, Democrats vowed to fix the broken earmark process. They promised complete transparency, no secret spending no, no back room deals.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS CHAIRMAN: I'm now trying, and so is our leadership, to reduce earmarks by at least 50 percent.

GRIFFIN: So has anything changed?

Keeping them honest, we put our intrepid CNN interns on the case. They called the offices of every single member of Congress asking just one question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm calling with CNN, and I'm trying to see if we can get a copy of the Congressman's earmark requests for this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was calling because we were trying to obtain a list of the Congressman's earmark requests.

GRIFFIN: What they found wasn't exactly a show of complete transparency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First I got quite a few yeses. And so I got all excited, and oh, yay! Congress is being nice to me. And then they said they would e-mail back or call back and by the end of the day I had nothing.

GRIFFIN: Our results after three days of actually calling each and every House office, 34 members of Congress -- just 34 -- sent us their earmark requests.

Day by day, they would report back on who would admit to putting earmarks in the budget bill.

Now maybe it was just me, but my take-away from this storyline was that the problem with earmarks (which were never defined, by the way) was a lack of transparency. That is, earmarks were anonymous – we the taxpayers didn’t know who put them in the budget bill, so there was no way to force accountability on anyone.

Well, guess what – earmarks are no longer anonymous. And Drew still hates them.

The pork-laden omnibus catch-all, held over from last year, contains no less than 8,570 earmarks. The pork projects are still being deciphered by various watchdog groups, and republicans are railing at the fact that the congressional leadership seems to have violated its transparency rules by jamming these all in a last minute bill, but a quick view has me scratching my head in disbelief at both parties.
After two years of criticism aimed at pork barrel spending, the defiant members of Congress are unabashedly asking for more. Republicans and democrats alike are looking for taxpayer dollars for projects no one could call necessary.

What’s wrong with earmarks, you may ask? Well, they’re pork. That’s kind of like explaining what a fleem is by saying it’s verkalen.

The bill Drew is talking about above is the catch-up funding bill for finishing up this fiscal year. According to Dana Bash’s reporting, the bill has 7.7B worth of earmarks in a 410B budget. So, say, less than five percent of the total. (It's actually less than two percent in this instance, but we're making it as Bad As Possible.)

Let's pretend, by way of illustration, that the budget has one billion dollars set aside for wetlands restoration. I actually have no idea how much the federal government spends on wetlands restoration and just picked a billion because it’s a nice ‘round’ number. No fair debating whether or not wetlands should be restored, let's just say it's in there. So Congressman Snood earmarks 45 million of that total (about five percent) for a project to rehabilitate Cheerful Swamp in his district. It will create thirty-five jobs in his district for five years, save lots of endangered wildlife and could potentially drive up tourism in the general area, creating even more jobs.

So that leaves a mere 955 million for the rest of the wetlands restoration projects and that money goes to whoever does that sort of thing in the federal government, and they look at their pile of outstanding requests, say for 2 billion dollars worth of projects, and decide which of them to fund. Now the bureaucrat making that decision (probably a large group, actually) may be a dedicated professional with thirty years experience in wetlands rehabilitation. Or he could be the EPA secretary's college roommate whose last paying job was Capitol Hill tour guide.

If Congressman Snood hadn't put in his earmark, there's a fifty-fifty chance that his district's project gets funded anyway - higher if the people writing up the proposal made a good case for it.

Now say someone - let's call him 'Drew' - raises a stink about Snood's earmark, and the resulting uproar causes Snood to withdraw it. We haven't saved 45 million dollars - they just flow back to the pot of money the Bureaucrat has to dole out.

Sure, one could make the case that all funding on wetlands restoration should be in the hands of the permanent civil service, with expertise in prioritizing among competing demands, but that's not the case Drew is making. He's saying the money is wasted. And it could as easily be wasted if it was part of the regular budget as if it were an earmark. One could even argue that a congressional representative, with ties back to his/her home district, is better attuned to the needs of their constituents than the faceless bureaucrat in Washington. But that’s not a debate you will see on CNN – just kneejerk reporting that grunts ‘earmarks. BAD!’ and calls that journalism.

Where's the investigation of the last several years' earmarks? What was the result of those projects? (No fair digging out ONE that's a loser and using it to imply they all are - yes, I'm looking at you, Drew.) What's the success/fail ratio? How does this year's total earmarked budget compare to the last ten years? Is the amount of earmarks going up? going down? How does Congress decide who gets to put earmarks in the budget anyway? And why do they even have earmark authority in the first place? Congress appropriates the budget; the executive branch spends it. Are there constitutional questions here? There's a lot of interesting outstanding questions about congressional earmarks that CNN will never address. They're too busy telling us that 'they're all alike' and 'things never change' to do any real reporting.


Blogger Pati Mc said...

You girls are to be commended for your insightful, intelligent op-ed and commentary.

Why is it that mainstream media find this so impossible to do anymore? I simply don't get it.

Am currently reading Bob Schieffer's book "America". It is a compilation of the commentaries that he ended "Face The Nation" with over the past years. You guys would love what he has to say.

Enjoyed your post Arachnae - very refreshing. Please send more.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The media Coverage of the economy is a bit too much .Why ???
Every anchors of every segment of CNN broadcast talk in depth about recession like we don't already know.
These negative report will lower the population confidence further
What can be done differently ?
Let those interested in deep analysis of the situation watch segment like CNN "Money Summit ".and focus the rest of news on other positive side of life or improvement

Seydou Coulibaly

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The media Coverage of the economy is a bit too much .Why ???
Every anchors of every segment of CNN broadcast talk in depth about recession like we don't already know.
These negative report will lower the population confidence further.
What can be done differently ?
Let those interested in deep analysis of the situation watch segment like CNN "Money Summit" and focus the rest of news on other positive side of life or improvement.

Seydou D, Coulibaly

10:16 AM  

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